Have you ever noticed how your brain likes to remember the bad things that happened?
This usually seems to be at about 3am - sound familiar? Your brain will remind you that someone said something bad, or of that time you think you made an idiot of yourself.
Why does this happen? Well, we have something called the negativity bias part of our brain that is programmed to focus on the bad stuff over the good stuff. The reason it does that is because it's a really effective survival strategy.
What’s going on in your brain
The primary purpose of our brain is to keep us alive. So it will remember information that it perceives as pertinent to keeping us alive over any other information.
If we take this back to primitive times, imagine you came out of your cave one day and there was a rustle in the bushes and a sabre-toothed tiger jumped out at you. The next time you leave your cave and there's a rustle in the bushes you’re going to think: ‘That could be a sabre-toothed tiger’. This would happen even if the chances are that on every other occasion the noise was a rabbit or a mouse or just a breeze. Your brain learned that this could be dangerous, so it keeps you away from it.
Why this matters today
The problem is that our brain is programmed to do that with any stressor, anything we perceive as negative. This is the negativity bias in action. What it means in effect is that our brain overplays any negative encounter.
Imagine you’ve had several job interviews over the course of your working life. Generally you’ve done alright in them. And then you went to a job interview and you forgot everything you had prepared and came out feeling that you made a fool of yourself. Your brain is going to translate that into such a negative experience that it's going to tell you: ‘Don't go for job interviews again’. It overplays the danger involved to try to keep you safe.
When we become aware of this we can start to look at those thoughts rationally and understand what’s going on in our brains. We can begin to see that these thoughts are not facts, and be able to recognise when those thoughts are actually not helping us.
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